(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine joined 46 other state attorneys general today in sending a letter calling for information about how Backpage.com is making efforts to remove advertising for sex trafficking, especially ads that could involve minors.
In a letter to the online classified site’s lawyers, the attorneys general say that Backpage.com claims it has strict policies to prevent illegal activity. Yet the chief legal officers of Washington state, Missouri and Connecticut have found hundreds of ads on Backpage.com’s regional sites that are clearly for illegal services.
“It does not require forensic training to understand that these advertisements are for prostitution,” the attorneys general wrote.
The letter says the hub for illegal sex ads is a magnet for those seeking to exploit minors and points to more than 50 cases in 22 states over three years, involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors through Backpage.com. Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media, LLC, is the top provider of “adult services” advertisements.
“Human traffickers exploit vulnerable kids by forcing them in to the sex trade, and Backpage.com provides them with a convenient tool that makes that activity even easier,” DeWine said.
DeWine added that kids aren’t capable, legally or otherwise, to consent to be sold for sex. And regardless of a prostitute’s age, it’s difficult to know whether the person advertised is being coerced.
Earlier this month, Attorney General DeWine reconvened Ohio’s Human Trafficking Commission to further examine the issue from a law enforcement perspective, raise public awareness and work to put traffickers behind bars.
Human Trafficking usually involves trafficking persons for use in the sex trade or in illegal labor operations. Nationally, over half of all human trafficking cases involve victims under the age of 18, and most girls who are engaged in sex trafficking begin between the ages of 12 and 14. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that at least 100,000 American children become engaged in child prostitution and child trafficking each year.
In 2008, 42 attorneys general in reached an agreement with Craigslist to crack down on illegal listings, in an effort to reduce crimes like human trafficking. Craigslist ultimately removed its “erotic services” section altogether in May 2009. In September, 2010, 21 attorneys general wrote Backpage.com to request that the adult services section be closed.
A copy of the letter is available at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/August2011BackpageLetter.
Lisa Hackley: 614-466-3840
Mark Moretti: 614-466-3840